Your Performative Activism is Not Enough: How the NHL’s Shift in Support for Black Lives Matter can Achieve More
They say history often repeats itself and the Summer of 2020 has been no exception to this phrase. For months, protests, riots, and a new wave of activism has swept the streets of various cities across the United States. Helping citizens unearth the racist policies and practices many of our states and their authorities hold dear.
During this time of change many organizations, companies, and even American sports teams have joined the cause in what many question as genuine activism or just another attempt at profit. American sports has often found its way into many political realms, whether fans would like to admit it or not. When it comes to support of the Black Lives Matter movement, fans, more notably of the NHL, often show distaste for the leagues support claiming that “politics and sports should not mix”.
Hockey, and the National Hockey League itself, has often been a sport heavily dominated by white men. When it comes to support for BLM, it does not shock me that fans often have opposing opinions. When we observe the response of fans toward the NHL’s support for the LGBTQ+ community during their “Hockey is for Everyone” month in February, we almost expect a heavy resistance from hockey fans when they’re confronted with anything that is not White, heterosexual, or right leaning.
The Black Lives Matter movement actually made its way into the NHL in late 2017. In response to the ongoing injustices across the states and standing (or kneeling) in solidarity with his brethren in the National Football League, Tampa Bay Lightning Forward JT Brown raised his fist in protest during the national anthem prior to their game against the Florida Panthers on October 7th, 2017. In response to this, many NHL players responded with a variety of comments. Some in support, others in total disdain. Brown himself also received a mixture of responses ranging from death threats to words of encouragement.
The city of Tampa had a different, yet interesting response. Brown was invited by the Tampa police force to spend a day with them on their “Ride Along” program. The intention of this ride along was to educate Brown, while also respecting his political views. Instead of educating themselves on the reasons why Brown decided to protest, the trials that African-Americans face everyday, the Tampa Police saw it fit to educate him on the issues police officers face. In this, Brown falls on the losing side, being convinced by an active oppressive force in order to feel sympathy instead of acknowledging his struggles as a Black man.
Today, the NHL has flipped its views toward National Anthem protests, and the Black Lives Matter movement entirely. While coining the phrase “We Skate for Black Lives” the league has plastered videos, interviews, and historic knowledge of all things Black that has ever been done in the NHL, all over its social media. As a life long NHL fan, I thank the league for taking these first steps toward breaking barriers within the sport. But, I cannot help but to wonder where these actions were before, when Brown himself were receiving death threats. It is only now that nearly every American sports league is speaking out, that the NHL find it convenient to do the same. But I urge the league, its commissioner Gary Bettman, and corporate to understand that these acts of performative activism are not enough to dismantle the racism that has existed so long within the NHL and its fanbase.
I am a firm believer that in order to disrupt systemic oppression we must dismantle it from the inside. In terms of the NHL, that means finding ways to make the game more accessible to underserved youth in various areas across the United States. As I kid growing up in Brooklyn, I can only often recall broken down basketball courts in the neighborhoods I’ve lived in and visited. With your occasional tennis court in a gentrified, or high income area every once in a while.
The New York Rangers have made New York City their home since their creation in 1926. While the New York Islanders made their home in the heart of Downtown, Brooklyn at the Barclays Center only about 5 years ago prior to the 2015–16 season. In an area that experiences heavy displacement yearly, it leaves me to question why these sports teams did not proactively serve their surrounding areas as much as they could have. Working with schools, creating programs, building rinks, would allow students and youth to become more engaged with the world of hockey. Thus, creating a larger fan base and also allowing more minorities to potentially become players, and one day stars. Changing the face of the NHL and allowing kids to look up to them and believe that they one day may also play in a league that is meant for them.
Social media and performative activism has become a tool for organizations to present to us a guise that infers they are doing their part in this battle of dismantling systemic oppression, without actually doing any of the hard work. I urge the NHL and other sports leagues to follow their words with action. Work continuously with underserved areas to bring the game of hockey to those who may grow to one day love the sport.
Working together with the recently created Hockey Diversity Alliance (created by various Black NHL players) will also help to shed light on the racial issues that exist in the world of hockey. Assisting this alliance in possibly creating new chapters or offices within the states, and across Canada, would allow for more areas to be served. Simultaneously growing the league, while providing access and resources to those who may not have any other way to become engaged with the game.
If you would like to find out more about how you can support the Hockey Diversity Alliance and the communities they look to serve please visit their website here.